Most failing restaurants get immediate second chance
Editor's note: CU-CitizenAccess operates under the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois and focuses on local investigative reporting, with an emphasis on social, justice and economic issues. The project began with funding from the Marajen Stevick Foundation and the UI and a matching grant from the John S. Knight and James L. Knight Foundation. For more, visit cu-citizenaccess.org.
By CLAIRE EVERETT/CU-Citizenaccess.org
Nearly two dozen restaurants in Champaign-Urbana have failed health inspections during the past three months. But most customers would not know that, despite new requirements that restaurants post results of their inspections.
Under a new notification system that began Jan. 1, restaurants and food establishments in Champaign-Urbana are required to post a color-coded placard based on health inspection results.
Health inspectors from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District issue the placards after completing their inspections.
If a restaurant fails an inspection, meaning it receives a score of 35 or lower out of 100, it is supposed to post a yellow placard in a prominent location. If a restaurant's score is below zero, it also fails, receiving a red placard to display and closing until violations are corrected. If a restaurant scores above 35, it passes and gets a green placard.
But health inspectors are not requiring failed restaurants to post yellow placards. Instead, restaurants that fail health inspections are allowed to correct enough violations during the inspection to raise their adjusted score to passing.
Prior to Jan. 1, inspectors would not have typically allowed this. Instead, they would conduct a re-inspection within 30 days.
Jim Roberts, environmental health director for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said that through June 30, restaurants that fail inspections with an adjusted score of 0-35 will get a green placard upon making corrections in the restaurant inspector's presence.
Outgoing Champaign County Board Chair Al Kurtz, who owned a local restaurant, suggested the six-month grace period, Roberts said. Kurtz also sits on the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Board.
Kurtz, who lost re-election in March for his county seat, owned a Blimpie submarine sandwich shop for 11 years, according to his campaign website.
Despite multiple calls and e-mails, Kurtz could not be reached for comment on this story.
Adjusted scores are based on a 100-point system with various points deducted for critical violations, non-critical violations and repeat violations. Scores can fall below 0.
"I would call it a period of notification and education," Roberts said. "Notification that this yellow placard is what could have happened here, and what will happen in the future."
Roberts said the grace period was also an opportunity to educate businesses about the foodborne illness risk factors listed on the placard and how to make short- and long-term changes to avoid violations. From January through March, there were 19 restaurants in the 0-35 adjusted score range — 16 of them would have received a yellow placard since they are located within Champaign and Urbana. Two of the failing restaurants are located in Rantoul. A third is located in Tolono.
Instead, those 19 restaurants got a chance to make corrections as the restaurant inspector was there, with 16 receiving green placards.
Despite the lenience for failing restaurants, those that score below zero on their inspections are still automatically shut down and are required to post red placards visible to customers while closed.